Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced a new initiative to protect sage-grouse populations and habitat in 11 western states, including Utah, using two popular U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs - Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).
"USDA will take bold steps to ensure the enhancement and preservation of sage-grouse habitat and the sustainability of working ranches and farms in the western United States," Vilsack said. "Our targeted approach will seek out projects that offer the highest potential for boosting sage-grouse populations and enhancing habitat quality."
Producers can sign up for the Sage-Grouse Initiative through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through April 23rd. In Utah, this initiative is open to any rangeland operators in historic or currently occupied sage-grouse habitat. Implementation will be a collaborative effort with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Sage-Grouse Local Working Groups around the state.
Examples of approved practices include: Retrofitting existing fences to increase their visibility and reduce sage-grouse mortality; installing escape ramps for wildlife in watering facilities; deferring grazing in nesting areas to increase residual cover and increase brood survival rates; and treating noxious or invasive weeds to improve range condition and sage-grouse habitat.
The sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird native to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem of the American West, has experienced a significant decline in population and habitat over several decades.
Greater sage-grouse are found in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The birds, found at elevations ranging from 4,000 to more than 9,000 feet, are highly dependent on sagebrush for cover and food.
USDA's sage-grouse initiative also will help the 11 western states respond proactively to a recent U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announcement that the greater sage-grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); however it will not be listed because of the need to focus on other higher priority species. Because of the DOI decision not to list the sage-grouse, landowners will have additional time to be responsive by taking specific actions to protect the species.
To that end, USDA has been working at the local, state and national levels on behalf of voluntary sage-grouse conservation for many years and will intensify its efforts in the future.
For additional information on this initiative, visit www.ut.nrcs.usda.gov.